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Random Shuffle: Jimmy Cliff, The Ramones, Willie Nelson

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I'm put my music collection on shuffle mode and talking about the songs that come up.

I'm less interested in giving a simple review of each song than I am in the personal emotions and memories these songs conjure. I prefer to talk about music as an experience rather than something to be measured scientifically.

“Many Rivers To Cross” – Jimmy Cliff
From 12/17/01

There is a line in High Fidelity where John Cusack runs down his top five songs to play at his funeral. “Many Rivers To Cross” makes the cut. Listen to any version of the song and it is easy to see why. Listen to this live version and you might just add it to your own list.

jimmy cliffThis idea is a strange thing to me. I mean who wants to think about their own death, let alone own cut the songs that will play at their funeral?

I’ve always felt that funerals are for the living and not the dead. In a great many ways I don’t really care what music is playing at my own funeral, or what casket I have, or where I am buried. As my grandfather used to say “You can roll me up in a sheet and throw me in a ditch for all I care.” Once I am gone, what you do with my mortal coil so to speak, and how you mourn me is your choice, not mine.

Yet as I think about it, I kind of like the idea of choosing the songs that will play at my demise. I like to think of my life as one long soundtrack, and which songs to choose for the closing credits is an interesting concept. Maybe I should do a full Random Shuffle of just funeral songs.

For now we’ll come back to Jimmy Cliff. “Many Rivers to Cross” is a great freaking song. It has a wonderful mix of reggae and gospel. This live version starts out with a buoyant Jimmy Cliff asking the crowd “how ya feeling?” but quickly moves into a mournful spiritual. It is accompanied by a single acoustic guitar and some chilling piano. But it is Cliff’s own vocals that make the song so beautiful.

His voice is plaintive and introspective. You can hear the weariness of a man old enough to have fought many battles, yet young enough to know there really are more rivers up ahead. When he begins to improvise the lyrics into something like “trouble is my manna/sorrow is my companion/love is my foundation” you know he sings for truth.

the ramones“Judy Is A Punk” – The Ramones
From County Jail

I’m not sure anyone would ever pick a Ramones song for their funeral, but in a weird way it wouldn’t be a bad way to go out.

Many years ago my cousin scored some Pearl Jam tickets in Texas with the Ramones as the opening act. I had planned to attend, but for reasons that now escape me I didn’t make it. My brother took my tickets instead.

Later when I asked him about the set, he was excited about Pearl Jam, but less so about the Ramones. It was an outdoor venue and their seats were far away from the stage, out on the lawn.

“We were way in the back,” he said, “and still they were way too freaking loud.”

At the time I thought “right on.” That’s the way it ought to be.

These days I’d probably secretly agree with my brother. I tend to shy away from music that’s too loud and too fast and too noisy. I like my tunes a little more subtle, a little quieter.

Listening to this song from a bootleg from 1977 though, and I get a sense of something amazing. The sound quality is pretty much crap. It is a wall of muddled, distorted sound. At a minute and twenty-five seconds it is hardly a song, but it is something crazy, and powerful, and awesome. I can barely make out any of the word both due to the rotten sound and the sort of shout-mumble the singer is doing. There is something like “I don’t know why”, and then something else about a second verse being same as the first. Mostly though it is loud and violent – a full on assault of my ears.

I’m a pretty low key guy, but this stuff makes me want to start slamming into walls and breaking stuff. Maybe I wouldn’t mind even if I did. Not even a little.

honeysuckle rose album cover“Angel Falling To Close To The Ground” – Willie Nelson
From Honeysuckle Rose

I went to a fairly reserved and conservative college. I had a great time there, but there were a lot of stiff shirt types around. I say this to introduce a girl I once knew named Wendy. She was wild and free. A cool breeze. A rainbow of color in a sometimes pretty drab place.

She went through a number of troubles there, and anther good friend of mine helped her through some pretty rough times. This song always reminds me of them as she was very much the angel who had crashed landed, and he was the man who healed her and had to watch her fly away.

As these things happen, they formed a close relationship that often teased into romance and other things. They were never officially anything and only once unofficially something.

This one time happened late one night. Me and this friend were hanging out in his dorm room in the wee hours. I forget what we were doing, probably listening to music and talking about whatever college boys talk about late into the evening.

At any rate about the time I started to drift off he got a phone call from this Wendy. They talked for a long while in hushed tones and I fell asleep. Sometime later he got up and walked out the door, mentioning something about needing to go get a Coke.

Hours later, in the creeping moments of the morning light he came traipsing back into the room. “That must have been some Coke,” I said. With a big sheepish grin he said “yes, yes it was.”

I have never known exactly what took place in those midnight hours. Both friends remained quite quiet on the subject over the years. But to this day I can make him turned a number of bright shades by simply asking him to get me a Coke.

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